Autism and Me (and Power Rangers)

To open up about how one feels when they have autism is akin to defusing a bomb with plastic scissors, you’re not cutting that wire no matter how much you need to. This may just prove to be the single most personal piece of writing I’ve ever composed. No Facebook status, tweet, blog post or even private message will be able to compare. But my lack of comfort and acceptance surrounding my autism recently received somewhat of a jolt, a jolt that came in the form of the 2017 Power Rangers movie.

Yes, from such an unlikely place, a big screen reboot of a franchise from many of our childhoods hit my person in a way that I cannot recall happening prior or since. The decision to make Billy Cranston, the iconic original Blue Ranger, someone on the spectrum was met with scepticism by some and curiosity by others. It was a major point of interest that drove my decision to see the film as soon as I could (that and my undying nostalgia for a crazy Japanese monster show re-edited into a teen sitcom). As I sat there in the cinema, a feeling washed over me like no other, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Without a shadow of a doubt, I was witnessing the most relatable and accurate depiction of how autism has affected me for these last 21 years.

Could it be so? Were the tears that were filling my eyes the wet, salty response to something I never thought I’d see in a film ever? As each minute ticked on, I merely grew to be increasingly engaged, hanging on every word that came out of Billy’s mouth. Everything was there, we both tell everyone we meet that we’re on the spectrum as a warning for doing weird things, we both have a hard time moderating our volume of speech depending on the situation, and we certainly do not have the ability to detect sarcasm or read social cues. Was I going mad, or had the screenwriters for goddamn Power Rangers nailed autism?

Autism isn’t fun, that is my true and honest opinion. I do not like it. Instead of being able to properly interact with people, I can remember minute details that ultimately don’t matter. I’ve never been on a date, I had a girlfriend once when I was 16 and it fell apart after a month because I do not know how to connect and relate to people on an emotional level. I had a mental breakdown when she broke up with me because I thought I’d been personally attacked, but from her point of view, I now realise that I looked like an uncaring bastard. It’s tough to come to terms with the fact that I may never have a long term relationship or find love. And I’m not saying that for sympathy or out of hopelessness, I know that I lack the capacity to commit to someone that I don’t share blood with on such an emotional level. I do not want to get married, I do not want kids, I don’t even think I want to experience sex as the idea of physical intimacy is a little repulsive to me.

What I do have is a brain that has been endowed with some truly extraordinary features. When focused, I am able to produce lengthy and detailed essays with minimal effort, rarely even having to look up the facts I state, as I can recall them so clearly. I do not have hobbies, I have obsessions. I will select a thing, and that thing will then consume me as I strive to learn everything there is to know about it. I’m aware that this sounds boastful, but it’s cold, hard, objective fact. I will spend many a night crying myself to sleep because I would happily trade in autism to understand how to read a person, or to know how to talk to a girl. You know exactly what flirting is, right? Because I don’t, the concept makes zero sense to me, I do not know when or if I’m being flirted with, and I certainly don’t know how to let people know I like them. My life is a series of me talking to a girl as a friend for months, never once giving an indication that I see them as a potential romantic partner. Then, usually at around 2AM, I shall produce an indefensibly long message in which I pour my heart out to her because that’s how love works in my head. Then I’m rejected and spend the next few days confused and upset. I hate it and I want it to stop.

This is where I find the truth in RJ Cyler’s performance as Billy Cranston. Art must always contain a measure of truth, whether it is being told through the artist’s vision or the actions of their tools. In film, the artist is the director, the tools are their actors. I would like to personally commend the work of RJ, you could consider this part as somewhat of an open letter to the man. Sir, you moved me in a way that no other actor has done, and I’ve seen every damn “autistic” performance there is to see. I never once saw truth in them, just an actor playing pantomime, having no clue what day to day life is like for those with autism. Simply put, your work was beautiful, comprised of soul and compassion. I don’t know what research you did for the role or who you consulted to prepare for it, but you knocked it out of the fucking park.

As depressing as this peek into my life seems, I feel relieved that I’ve gotten it out there. I may have gotten too personal, but that’s the only way I could possibly express my love of what Power Rangers did in relation to my autism. And it is just that, my autism. It’s no one else’s, it affects everyone differently and there are likely those that didn’t see truth in Billy’s characterisation. That’s because this is my blog and thus, my views. Thank-you to the Power Rangers creative team and thank-you especially to RJ Cyler, you made me feel like a superhero, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.

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